Last Updated on March 15, 2022 by Allison Price
Dr. Andy Roark published an excellent article entitled “5 Things This Tech Wishes you Knew Before Euthanizing”. It provides useful information on how pet owners can make the process easier for their pets and ease the pain of having to say goodbye. The article is well worth reading. Horse care is quite different. Here are some tips to help you understand horse euthanasia.
1. It’s okay to cry. This is also the first point in Dr. Roark’s article and it is equally important for horses. Horse owners have different relationships to horses than they do with their pets. Horses can be companions and teachers as well as caregivers, therapists, and colleagues. A horse that is 10 times your size is magical and allows you to take charge. Your veterinarian and veterinary technician also love horses. Please know that your veterinarian won’t be in tears because they aren’t caring enough. Our focus should be on the animal’s well-being and our support.
2. The term “euthanasia,” as it is known, is something we take seriously. There are several ways to induce general anesthesia. The most common is either giving an overdose of the anesthetic drug, or giving another drug that stops the heart. While horses may take a few deep breaths and move slightly when anesthesia is administered, the horse is still unconscious and conscious of what is going on. A projectile to the brain is another method that can be used, which is also humane if it is done well.
3. Plan ahead if you can. It is not uncommon to have to make emergency decisions. The better prepared we are, the better. The horse may still have the medication that was used to overdose on anesthesia. This is a risk for any other animals who consume it. U.S. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides more information on this topic and the laws protecting animals from poisoning. To minimize the risk to wildlife and other animals, it is a good idea to have a plan for a burial or disposal. A large, heavy tarp or weights can be used in an emergency to prevent any contact with the body. After you have your burial and disposal plans in place, you can focus on creating the perfect day for you and your horse. Sometimes we don’t have the luxury to choose when our friends can go. Sometimes they can go on their own or they are forced to endanger themselves by an untreatable injury. If you can, choose a sunny day when the barn is quiet and the sun is shining. Do not rush and make sure you have the time to spend “one-on one” with your horse, as well as doing your usual things. We promise you won’t regret it.
4. It can be very dangerous. It can be dangerous. While some horses may lie down calmly, others may experience an initial excitement due to the medication. Some may even attempt to rearrange themselves. This can be quite startling and is not like putting your cat or dog to sleep. As you may know, lying down is not an instinctive behavior for horses, especially when they are out in public and around people. Your pet will be comfortable lying down in your lap when you are euthanizing them. You can make your horse’s final days as comfortable for you and your pet if you continue your daily routine and show your love and affection right up to the moment they are put down. Let them enjoy some grass and their favorite treats, and stand beside them. As long as they are safe and there are no other horses, let them go to a familiar place. Talk to them as you would, and rub their heads (or any other favorite place that you know). You can be their friend throughout it all. Then, when you’re ready, let your veterinarian take over. Your life is so wonderful that your horse will forget about you. You can take comfort knowing that the reason your horse is so suddenly falling is that the drugs we use to euthanize horses IMMEDIATELY effect the brain. This removes your horse’s awareness as well as their ability to “right themselves” (or stand). However, this does not mean that your horse will feel any pain or discomfort as their life ends. As veterinarians, we choose this method of euthanasia because it is not possible to prolong the process and allow your horse any anxiety or discomfort.
5. Do not feel guilty about not being present. Take care of yourself, and allow yourself to grieve as you wish. Share your feelings with us after your horse passes. Tell us about your favorite story. Horses are our favorite thing, and we love putting them to sleep. The joy of sharing in the stories of horses who have lived a happy and loving life can bring a smile even to the most difficult of hearts.